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This review is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

TRYING TO SOUND LIKE THOUGHT Peter Porter, The Automatic Oracle (Oxford) £4.95
F.T. Prince, Walks in Rome (Anvil) £3.95

If I were Peter Porter, I'd have nightmares about waking up one day to find I was really W.H. Auden. The Automatic Oracle is in several respects his most late-Audenesque collection so far: there is the relish for words borrowed from level 6 of one of those Wordpower quizzes (passegiata, sepsis, empleachment, fattoria); the delighted capitalization of abstractions (The Unconscious) and obscurities (noble Houyhnhms); the recklessly generous sprinkling of proper names; and the pleasure in delicately wrong-footing rhythms. Heard, the poems resemble a brilliant professorial lecture during which the sleepy student is all too aware that he's not keeping up with his notes; read, they hurtle and sometimes stumble through the reflexive excitement of their own language:


        That's it, my voice!
You recognize it now, the tape of language
trying to sound like thought; a riderless phantom,
haunter of a million articles and host
to ego at the conference. Round and round
go galaxies of talk and everyone knows
not to intrude on anyone else's space
for fear that no one then will have the power
to recuperate the narrative.
         Old friends, new antitheses!
What if instead we go on automatic pilot?
   Zgtfpxxlrjdxrhgggkk...oof
       Sound poetry...
                                    ("Disc Horse")


This is dangerous stuff, and no one is more aware than Porter of the danger - which is precisely that another "automatic pilot" will lead him into an echo chamber where ...


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